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AICN COMICS C2E2 2011 Q&@: Ambush Bug talks with Comixology CEO David Steinberger about conquering the comic book world!!!


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AICN COMICS: Q&@ is our new semi-weekly interview column where some of your favorite @$$Holes interview comic bookdom’s biggest, brightest, newest, and oldest stars. Enjoy this latest in-depth interview filled with @$$y goodness and be sure to join the rest of your favorite @$$Holes for their opinions on the weekly pull every Wednesday with AICN COMICS REVIEWS!

Q’s by Ambush Bug!

@’s by David Steinberger
President / CEO of Comixology!

Hey folks, Ambush Bug here. Seems the biggest news at this years Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (C2E2) was the announcement that Comixology signed practically everyone but Marvel and Dark Horse to distribute online content to comic book shops around the world. I had a chance to sit down with President and CEO of Comixology David Steinberger to talk about this new development. I have to admit, I’m new to all of this, so it was great to hear what the future of comic books hold straight from the horse’s mouth. Here goes…

AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Dave, you’re the president of Comixology, is that right?

DAVID STEINBERGER (DS): Yeah, I’m the president and CEO and cofounder.

BUG: Okay. You guys have had some pretty big news this time around at the con, do you want to tell me about that?

DS: Yeah, absolutely. We had announced a digital retailer affiliate program and yesterday or two days ago we announced all of the partners for that affiliate program headlined by DC Comics, but with tons of great comic publishers like Image, Dynamite, Boom, Red Five Publishing, Archie Comics, and tons of good guys in on this retailer affiliate program.

BUG: Great, so what is this going to mean for the retailer?

DS: What it means is that retailers can actually embed a digital comics store and reader onto their website, so that they can sell to their own audience. Their customers can actually read online, so they actually stay with the site, so if they want to buy more, they just go back to their retailer and their retailer gets a percentage of sale. It’s very low effort…you don’t have to be a tech genius. We are eventually going to do some in store stuff, but you don’t have to have people come to the store, so it’s digital where people buy digital. I think the biggest thing is that retailers feel a threat from digital comics taking away customers, but the fact is that digital comics are happening. 2010 was really the first big year for digital comics and that distribution method is going to be available to their customers. It might as well be through their website and have them participate in that.

BUG: It sounds like a great idea, because it does seem like we are at the edge here of “what’s going to happen with the printed comics? Is it going to go away?” It seems like you guys are really thinking this through and developing this system so that it’s beneficial for everybody.

DS: Thanks. Well I think that it’s such a weird market, the way it came about in terms of the direct market and Diamond Distribution as a semi-monopoly distributor and that you know its retailers are fans—sometimes first as fans and second as business people and not first as business people, right? So it’s very different than any other market out there and there are no big chains…there are all of these different pieces to it that make it feel more vulnerable. We think that because of the way it’s developed, it’s underdeveloped and people are underexposed to comics in general and that digital can actually help expand both the print and just comics in general by…you know, we have a retailer finder in every app, so you can actually find a retailer at the end of reading WALKING DEAD and then go buy a trade. I hear it from our retailer partners all of the time that they get new customers that way. Then for those that don’t have any comic stores near them or no good ones near them, then they have the opportunity to get digital, so it’s a big deal in that way.

BUG: That sounds fantastic. So what kind of availability is it going to be for the customers? I was just talking with one of your guys about it being on Android and iPhones.

DS: Yeah, so the digital storefront for the retailers is going to be web, but it’s all part of the Comics All G Network, so they will be able to say like “you can buy here and then read it on your Android device or on your iPad or any iPhone,” so yeah just like the DC Comics app on the iPhone is part of the Comics All G Network, it’s going to work the same exact way with the web affiliates.

BUG: So how did it come about that you got all of these guys to kind of come together? They can never seem to agree on anything, but you’ve got all of these other companies together working with you. How did that happen?

DS: I think there are two reasons. One is that we have what I think is the best reading technology, so the comic feels like a comic, even on small devices, so the timing and the rhythm of storytelling is the same, because of the panel to panel guided view. Secondly, we had been creating virtual pull lists and tracking all of the print comics for almost two years before we went to the digital, so we were already majorly promoting all of their books. We had contacts inside the publishers and so we could call them up after a creator podcast or something we did and say “who’s handling digital stuff for you? Do you have somebody that’s a point person?” Then we had an easy path to introduce them and show them what we were planning on doing and you know we came out in July of 2009 and got a very early lead as the first like multiple publisher store and you know I think the popularity of the app…we were the top grossing book app of 2010 for the iPhone in the US and so once we started getting that lead, the publishers are making good money with us.

BUG: Yeah, sounds beneficial for everybody. So what’s going to be happening here in the next couple of months with you guys?

DS: Well, we turned in an app dedicated to kid’s comics just a couple of days ago, so that could be anywhere from a week, a couple of days, three weeks depending on Apple and could be a couple of months if they reject it for some reason. I hate pre-announcing stuff, but we are a “17 and over” app and one of the biggest requests we have from our adult consumers is that they want to be able to hand the app to their kids, but they don’t feel like they can, because they’ve got WALKING DEAD on there or any number of mature titles that we have and Archie…we’ve got a great Archie Comics license and we’ve got a lot of kids stuff, so having a dedicated app that a parent can just hand off is just much better.

BUG: BOOM! has a kid’s line now.

DS: BOOM!, yeah. BOOM! is not represented in the app yet.

BUG: Really?

DS: We are working on that. You know, they have a lot of Disney licenses. Disney takes time to do the licensing and hopefully we will be able to do some of that, but definitely the kid’s line I expect, we have a good relationship with Boom, we will get there.

BUG: Have you had any resistance from retailers? I know retailers who are kind of stuck in the system that they are doing. They don’t want to improve it and they can be really stubborn…there are a lot of people who are really stubborn against all of this digitalization of comics, so what do you guys say in response to that?

DS: Well look, it’s scary. We did a survey of the retailers that use our services and one hundred percent of them want to try the affiliate program, so again because of the way the market came about and because you have a lot of fans as retailers, anything that seems to be a threat is just scary. I was talking with Patrick over at Challengers Comics here in Chicago. He’s one of our retailers; they use our poll list service. He’s all for it. He’s completely embraced it. So it just depends on the retailer you talk to, but Patrick also talks about every six months rearranging his store to improve access to the stuff that’s selling well, so that’s a guy that really is thinking constantly about it and changing and moving.

I mean that store is called “Comics and Conversation,” so they are all about what makes the comic book store a great cultural center and why people go there even though they could download torrents for free online, they still come in and pay 2.99 or 3.99 a book, because it’s a whole thing it’s like an entire package that includes all of the people that work there and their expertise and hanging out you know, so there’s more value to that for those guys.

BUG: I have to admit, I’m very new to digital comics. I am getting an iPhone or an Android, I’m still deciding, but it is really interesting me and when I first heard about it I was intimidated too. I said “oh, I love comics that I can hold in my hand and everything,” but it’s getting to the point where I think it’s much more appealing. How do you confront the people who do download torrents and things like that? Is that an inevitability in this business?

DS: Well I think the best way to do it is to have great availability, good prices, and a better experience than what you can get on a torrent, right? At the end of the day we support anything the publishers want to do. It’s the publisher’s property and so we’ve talked to several of them about different way to combat piracy. The best way to do it is just like how iTunes worked. You’re never going to win everybody back, but most people want to pay for what they are buying and you know have the right spirit, it’s just a matter of making sure that…so as we get closer to having more and more books as same day release, we will have better impact, but you know not everybody can have an iPad or afford an iPad. Not everybody can…I guess the iPhone now you can get for fifty bucks or something, so just about everybody could afford that, but the tablets and the big screens for the monitors and that type of thing, they are still luxury items. The idea is get it as available as possible and that’s why iTunes took a bite our of piracy itself, you know?

BUG: It’s funny; I’m jut seeing more and more. I work with kids at my day job and all of them are so digital savvy, so much more than I ever was, and even am now. I hand them a disposable camera and they look down on it to see where the screen is, to see what the picture looks like, so it’s getting to be where there is a whole generation where all they are going to think about are apps and touch screens and things like that.

DS: One of my employees said that his two year old…he’s got an iPad, and his two year old now swipes every photo in a frame that he sees.

BUG: (Laughs) That’s great.

DS: Yeah and you see these little kids come up today at SDCC and NYCC and they come up and they are just like immediately…they know how it works. That’s part of the genius of what Apple did I think, because it does what you expect it to do, so it feels very physical, but they jumped right in and their parents are like laughing in the background “Yeah, they don’t need any instructions.”

BUG: That is pretty ingenious, just by turning the page that is an action thing, so you are still actively reading which was one of the initial criticisms of online comics.

DS: It feels physical or it mimics physical.

BUG: Well great, it sounds like it’s a really exciting time for you guys. I’m so happy for you guys. You guys have grown so much in such a short time, so congratulations. How’s the Con been for you so far?

DS: It’s been pretty good. We are not positive it’s bigger than last year in terms of the flow of traffic, but some people say it is and some people say it’s not. We don’t sell anything at the Con, so we can’t measure in dollars, right? It’s really about awareness and about getting people to see the app and about doing some business while we are here with publishers and that type of thing, but I think Chicago deserves a good Con and this has been a really nice size with lots of participation by publishers and so…

BUG: As soon as I get my iPhone or Android I look forward to using all of your stuff, so thanks a lot. Thanks for sitting with me today.

DS: You bet. I appreciate it.

Editor’s Note: Since the interview, I ended up getting an iPhone, but I haven’t tried the Comixology stuff yet, but I can’t wait to do so. Congrats to Comixology. They seem to be a pretty business savvy and forward-thinking company who are trying to ease both the persnickety comic shops and the fickle comic reader into the digital age.

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/reviewer/co-editor of AICN Comics for over nine years. Support a Bug by checking out his comics (click on the covers to purchase)!

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Readers Talkback
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  • April 25, 2011, 10:08 a.m. CST


    by Huckshine_Saints

  • April 25, 2011, 1:52 p.m. CST


    by KidKaos73

    No questions about the price of digital comics and how readers are unlikely to pay $3.99 for a download, as the publishers seem to expect? The comics business seems to be on the verge of destroying itself with all this hedging. They don't want to fully commit to digital for fear of alienating retailers. But customers are leaving retailers in droves, perhaps as a result of high cover prices or online piracy. Too bad the price of digital comics is too ridiculously high to make them attractive to most. The ultimate solution will probably be that the fans flee the comics game for good. Comics publishers and stores seem to have decided that they'd rather sell a little of their product to a small number of people but at higher prices, than sell a lot of their product (say, via digital downloads) at a reasonable price (say $1.50) to millions of people. Misguided.

  • April 25, 2011, 3:22 p.m. CST

    It's about time.

    by hallmitchell

    It's great it's happening. Let's face it. This could of been done ten years ago. I think the top selling comic moves only about 110,000 copies a month and that's Green Lantern. The top seller in the mid nineties moved around one million per month. That's a big slide. How about the comics industry start leading instead of following?

  • April 25, 2011, 9:57 p.m. CST

    Interesting concept, but it's full of big holes already

    by qweruiop

    For starters is the aforementioned concern about price. We have a situation here where 3 parties are all having to share revenues, the comic book publishers, Comixology, and the retail stores (not to mention royalties to the artists and writers). With so many hands in this pot, the price is probably going to be around the same as a printed comic ($3.99+) in order to break even, and that's not going to fly at all. You can forget about any sane comic book fan paying more than that just for this feature. 2nd concern is the medium. Online comics work on big-screen LCD monitors, not on a tiny Iphone or Android screen. Mobility is a convenient thing to utilize, but not at the expense of being able to read the comic. 3rd concern is the limited appeal of publishers. DC is a plus, but Dynamite? Boom? Archie Comics? Wow, I guess no more Jugghead comics for me. It's a damn shame they couldn't get Marvel or Dark Horse involved. As anyone in the gaming industry has seen, gaming consoles live and die by their breadth of video games and publishers. Same concept applies to comics, you have to have a wide area of comics to attract readers to. And I'm talking about WELL-KNOWN comics like Captain America or Star Wars, not anything that Boom Comics offers. Things are already off to a bad start here. Which leads me to concern #4. If Marvel and Dark Horse haven't jumped on board, what does that say about they saw in this technology. This is Marvel we're talking about, the current champion of digital comics, and if they didn't want to participate in this free avenue (free to them as they'd be simply licensing the product) that means they know something is very unappealing about this feature. In any case I give credit to the creator of this concept, as it remains very interesting to see if it's pulled off. I like that it merges the old-school comic book buying with the new ones, so it's not completely kicking dirt to comic book retail stores out there. But it has to also make sense to your average comic book fan out there, both price and product wise. Don't even get me started on the clusterfu#% that comic book companies have put themselves through now. As someone has mentioned before, they seem to love having their pie become that more niche by the year, in essence ostrasizing general fans, while simultaneously kicking out loyal fans through high pricing and ridiculous short-sighted comic book events and gimmicks. To think that the 2000's brought so many blockbuster comic book movies to the general audience (tens of millions of them), where the comic book companies could have put a solid effort to appeal to these new prospective clients by setting their comics in areas that get a wide amount of attention, such as grocery stores and malls. Imagine, it could have been like the 1940's again where comic books are bought in the MILLIONS on a monthly basis by the mass general public. Instead they pissed it all away by continuing the tried-and-busted routine of niche retail comic book store distribution. Sad but true.

  • April 27, 2011, 9:56 a.m. CST

    Marvel is on board along with many others

    by Trace Cohen

    Marvel has been on board for over a year now, they launched when the iPad was announced as one of the first 1000 apps. Regarding, BOOM!, Dynamite and Archie, they are all on board as well - check out comiXology's list of publishers here